Deputy mayor: Funding pressures put at risk London's educational success

The government’s plans for the National Funding Formula will will affect London's most vulnerable and disadvantaged children the most, argues Joanne McCartney, deputy mayor for education and childcare

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Every child in London deserves the best possible chance for happiness and success, making the most of our city’s great opportunities. We know that the earlier a child starts to learn, the better they tend to do later in life, which is why early years education is so important. Although the Mayor has no statutory powers over education, we can still make a huge difference, and at City Hall, we’re working to ensure no child is left behind. 
 
London has made great progress over the last 15 years, becoming an international beacon for education, with a proven track record in supporting disadvantaged pupils. Children in the capital who are eligible for free school meals do better at GCSEs than their peers in the rest of the country, and we should celebrate this success. However, we still have work to do. While London is England’s top region at the end of primary and secondary schooling, some of our disadvantaged pupils, including those with special educational needs, disabilities and from certain backgrounds and ethnic minorities, are still not achieving as highly as their peers. This attainment gap has barely changed since 2011, and it’s often these children who miss out on vital early years education. 
 
Headteachers continue to be hit by budget challenges, and the government’s proposed changes to the National Funding Formula will result in many schools across London losing funding. In the face of cuts, it’s the programmes, which help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children that will suffer the most. 
 
We know that the most cost-effective way to make the biggest difference is to make sure that the early years count and reduce the gaps between children in the youngest age groups. This is a major focus of our new work with stakeholders to increase the take-up and quality of early years education in London, especially among disadvantaged groups. In 2017, only 58 per cent of disadvantaged two-year-olds in London accessed their free part-time childcare place, compared to 71 per cent nationally. Next month, we are inviting proposals from organisations to deliver pilot Early Years Hubs, bringing providers together to work collaboratively and improve access to quality and affordable early years education and childcare. 
 
The Hubs will work over a three-year period to help ensure more children are ready to thrive at school from the age of five and will aim to improve parental knowledge of early-years education and childcare support entitlements, so every family knows what support is out there. We’re also working on reducing health inequalities through our Healthy Early Years London programme. Currently piloting in six London boroughs, the programme encourages activities at school and home which support a healthy start to life. 
 
There is already great work going on. However, we need to give all young Londoners the chance to succeed no matter what their background, and raise the quality of our education system even higher to compete with global competitors. 
 
That’s why we’re supporting schools to help pupils who started off behind their peers achieve their full potential. They can also share their ways of working, through the Mayor’s new Schools for Success programme. More than 100 schools are recognised today at a City Hall ceremony, representing around 6 per cent of London state schools. The Schools for Success programme is a tribute to them but also an opportunity for other schools to learn from the brilliant progress they have made, through events, school visits and their online profiles. 
 
None of what we have achieved already in London would have been possible without the work of all the headteachers, teachers, staff and governors who work tirelessly to help our young people achieve their potential. We know that quality of teaching makes a huge difference, particularly to disadvantaged pupils. But in addition to continuous funding pressures, schools are struggling to recruit enough headteachers. According to research for the GLA in 2015, three out of five head teachers planned to quit in the next three years, many to retire.

More than half say retaining newly qualified teachers has become harder in London, with high housing and living costs driving experienced teachers out of the capital and deterring applications from outside the city. We’re working hard to address this, supporting the London school system on recruitment and retention and the Mayor creating more affordable homes through his London Housing Strategy, as well as bringing in the London Living Rent. Our Getting Ahead London programme provides bespoke training and support to talented deputy head teachers to help them take the next step. Now in its second year, we’ve seen great success, with a third of the 60 participants promoted by the end of the first year, and 15 becoming head teachers. 
 
We’re on the right road, but we still have a long way to go. Proposed funding cuts, coupled with existing budget pressures, are extremely worrying, we will lose teachers, standards risk dropping, and pupils will suffer. The Mayor and I continue to work with our partners to fight for a fairly funded school system that will work for young Londoners for generations to come no matter what their background.  

Joanne McCartney is the deputy mayor of London for education and childcare

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